Virtual courts delivering swifter justice

A ten-week pilot of virtual courts across Devon and Cornwall has begun that will “deliver swifter justice for local people”. Described as a “great example of innovation in our courts”, it is hoped the pilot will lead to a permanent introduction in 2017.

Nov 2, 2016
By Paul Jacques

A ten-week pilot of virtual courts across Devon and Cornwall has begun that will “deliver swifter justice for local people”. Described as a “great example of innovation in our courts”, it is hoped the pilot will lead to a permanent introduction in 2017.

One centralised magistrates’ court, based in Bodmin, Plymouth or Exeter, will hear remand applications for defendants who will remain at the police custody centre until the outcome is known. They will appear via video-link.

Six custody centres will feed into one court, allowing around 20 hearings a day.

In the longer-term, it is hoped that this will expand further to include Saturday and ‘out of hours’ working.

The introduction of virtual courts will mean:

•Improved court utilisation (court listing);

•Swifter justice for victims and witnesses;

•Reduction in overnight remand numbers at police custody;

•Reduction in prisoner movements; and

•Reduction in costs for the criminal justice system (CJS).

Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner (PCC) Alison Hernandez, who supports a wider rollout of the technology, said the introduction of virtual courts was “excellent news.”

“It has taken a considerable amount of careful and detailed planning and the benefit of making the best use of modern technology is enormous,” she said.

“It is a different way of doing things and so many agencies are working together to make this a success that I’m excited to see how this will develop further”.

She said a recent, much shorter, trial period helped to refine the scheme. This further pilot phase will give the CJS agencies in Devon and Cornwall valuable experience of virtual courts and enable all stakeholders to make a significant contribution to future planning at a national level.

As criminal justice agencies develop their digital working practices, centralising the remand hearings will significantly reduce the demand on other court lists and make the process more efficient and less time-consuming.

Sir Oliver Heald QC, Minister of State for Courts and Justice welcomed the initiative and said: “We have a world-leading legal system and are investing £1 billion to harness new technology and deliver a fully-connected criminal courtroom by 2020. This scheme in Devon and Cornwall is a great example of innovation in our courts and will help to deliver swifter justice for local people.”

Local Criminal Justice Board business manager Hannah Hart added: “The virtual court forms part of the modernisation programme for the CJS and is an exciting innovation for the region. The leaders of the local CJS agencies are keen to promote new and innovative ways of working and using video technology to improve the efficiency of the service through easier access and quicker processes is a natural step to take.

“The pilot across both counties creates considerable opportunities to identify benefits and address challenges involved with this new way of delivering services to local people.

“A full report will be provided to the chief executives of the CJS agencies in January 2017.”

The virtual courts system in Hertfordshire, which has been running since 2012, is now being extended to neighbouring Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Results have shown that the amount of time police officers have to spend at court has fallen dramatically as they can now appear ‘virtually’.

This has increased the amount of time they can spend on other cases, and enables them to be operational up to ten minutes before having to appear – a huge improvement on the old system of attending court. More significantly, the result for vulnerable victims and witnesses has improved, with fewer needing to go through stressful and drawn out court cases.

Hertfordshire’s PCC David Lloyd has welcomed the expansion of the scheme, which allows defendants to ‘appear’ at magistrates’ court via video link from custody.

He said it has “revolutionised” the way cases are dealt with, adding: “It helps victims, saves money, speeds up justice and I’m pleased that thanks to our strategic alli

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